The most common food cravings: How you can satisfy your pregnancy cravings safely and healthily
Pass the pickles please…
About 80% of pregnant women get cravings, but why do mums-to-be get (sometimes frankly whacky) food cravings?
Cravings – but why?
It’s still a bit of a mystery as to why crazy food cravings occur during pregnancy.
They’re often thought to be the result of nutritional deficiencies and the body’s way of helping mothers get the nutrients they need – think cravings for salty chips means you’re low in sodium.
But it may not be that simple. Cravings might also be the result of seesaw hormones playing games with the brain. During just the first few weeks of pregnancy, a woman’s oestrogen and progesterone levels rise rapidly. Both of these hormones have powerful effects on the brain: oestrogen has been linked to increases in dopamine and serotonin receptors in regions of the brain that are important for regulating emotions, behaviour and mood. And as most of us know, there’s a very strong connection between mood and food.
Fluctuating hormones can also play with our sense of taste and smell, which in turn can affect what foods seem appealing.
Another possible culprit for those curious cravings might be the extra work the body does to quickly produce a lot more blood while baby grows bigger.
Research suggests pregnancy cravings tend to appear in the first trimester, peak in the second and decrease in the third. They also commonly fall into three groups: sweet, sour or savoury.
So, what are the most common pregnancy cravings? Peanut butter, pickles, spicy food, ice cream, red meat and (of course) chocolate. These sound quite normal though, right? We’ve heard about some cravings that are downright, let’s say, different – try watermelon sprinkled with pepper, or cheese and balsamic vinegar…
Some common cravings are relatively nutritious (strawberries, oranges, cheeses, fish and milk), and others not so much. While it’s not necessarily bad to indulge in a bit of chocolate, or the odd donut, if eaten in large amounts these foods can take the place of nutrient-dense foods that would better fuel both mum and bub.
There’s one type of craving to be aware of which is an uncommon condition called Pica. This causes cravings for non-food substances (such as clay, paper or soil) and has been known to occur in pregnant women. This is normally a sign of a more serious iron deficiency in pregnancy. If you experience any particularly strange cravings, talk to your doctor who can help target the underlying cause.
I’m craving hard – what should I do?
If you have particularly strong cravings, especially for less nutritious foods, try your best not to overindulge. The best approach to keeping cravings in check might be allowing yourself a little of what you’re craving – a small amount might help pass the urge.
Other tips for managing pregnancy cravings:
- Eat regular, healthy meals, and choose low-GI foods that keep you fuller for longer
- Keep healthy snacks on hand
- Steer clear of food safety risks during pregnancy (soft cheese, saw seafood, you know the drill)
- Try healthy swaps – switch salty hot chips for naturally salted popcorn, or if it’s sugar you’re craving, try fresh or dried fruit
- Maybe a gentle distraction will help – try calling a friend or a walk in the sunshine, and
- As always, prioritise plenty of good quality sleep.
Most importantly, eat a healthy, varied diet covering all the food groups, and if the cravings do creep in, remember it’s normal, so don’t be too hard on yourself!
We recommend that you seek personal advice from a doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) in relation to your own health circumstances.